Cheese making in France is high art. A sampling of its greatest hits provides delicious evidence of the country’s devotion to the craft.
Ratio of number of dairy cows whose daily milk output is required to make one wheel of Comté.
Pounds per capita of cheese consumption in France, among the highest in the world.
If apple pie is a symbol of America, in France, the same can be said of Brie cheese, a sublimely rich symbol of that nation’s food traditions. Easy, approachable and always welcoming, Americans long have looked to the triple crème treat as a passport to French culture and a stepping stone to further explorations.
Food is approached with near-reverence in France and cheese stands tall as one of its stars. The country boasts the greatest variety of styles in the world and the highest per capita consumption. No surprise, then, that late president Charles de Gaulle is famously quoted as saying: “How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six kinds of cheese?”The precise number of varieties is hard to pinpoint but certainly has expanded beyond what de Gaulle described. Estimates are that more than 700 distinct types have been identified although some insist even that number doesn’t embrace the full extent. Each year, new cheeses emerge while some of the older styles slip away and become lost to history.
Among the glorious richness, variations in style abound, each a testament to a region and its people. A mild, buttery Brie de Nangis is different from an earthier Brie de Meaux yet both hail from île de France, the area surrounding Paris.That’s all part of the intrigue. “What’s wonderful about France is that each little area has its own cheese that they’ve been making for years,” acknowledges Luan Schooler, a specialty cheese expert in Portland, Oregon. “These are cheeses that are worthy of slowing down to taste.” With the sheer variety of styles, cheese enthusiasts can study—and happily sample--for years and still stumble upon discoveries. Fortunately, expertise in the field is not a prerequisite to eating these cheeses. The following is a primer on five signature styles. Think of them as Fromage 101. Triple Crème
Call this indulgent style a grand gateway to French cheese: These creamy, white rounds are easy to like, often stealing the show. Made by pouring cream into cow’s milk curd as it sets, soft-ripening triple crèmes make great dessert cheeses when served with fresh fruit, particularly apples and pears.Types to Try: Brillat Savarin, Pierre Robert
Other soft-ripening cheeses: Brie, Camembert
While goat cheeses are made elsewhere in France, they are a specialty of the west-central Loire Valley, where goats have been raised for centuries. Many are lightly dusted with ash which absorbs surface moisture and helps to preserve the soft cheese. Often served young, these cheeses display an unmistakable goat-milk tang while still exhibiting mild and creamy traits.Types to try: Selles-sur-Cher, Crottin de Chavignol
Other goat’s milk cheeses: Tomme de Chevre, Charolais
Made in the French Alps, Comté is a top-selling cheese that evolved from the same traditions as Swiss Gruyère (also called Gruyère de Comté). With a flavor redolent of nuts and brown butter and a texture that melts easily, this cheese is ideal for cheese trays and also is a versatile partner in the kitchen.Types to try: Arnaud, Jura-Gruyère
Other mountain cheeses: Ossau Iraty, Tomme de Savoie Roquefort
An ancient cheese (evidence suggests it predates Rome) Roquefort is a deeply flavorful, slightly crumbly sheep’s milk blue cheese from the southeast corner of France. Not a cheese to take lightly, it is sharp and tangy, salty and sweet, perfect when savored after a meal.Types to try: Carles, Le Papillon
Other blue cheeses: Bleu des Causses Bleu des Basques Epoisse
A French cheese primer would not be complete without a glorious stinker from the washed-rind family—cheeses whose rinds have been rinsed with wine, beer or brandy. Described by many as smelling like “the feet of God,” this runny wonder’s taste is subtle, complex and well deserving of its status as one of the all-time greats.Types to try: Affidelice, L’Ami du Chambertin.
Other stinky cheeses: Munster, Langres
Warning: mysql_num_rows(): supplied argument is not a valid MySQL result resource in /home/cheese/public_html/article.php on line 374
) | Share: